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John Turner Witte; 1924-2014: Area businessman aided art museum




John Turner Witte, 89, who led a family storage and moving business that helped Toledo households relocate for more than a century, died Feb. 17 in his Ottawa Hills home.

He had pancreatic cancer, son Charles Turner Witte said.

Mr. Witte was president and owner of Moreton Storage Co. when it closed in the late 1990s after he sold its assets. His grandfather, Charles S. Turner, came to Toledo in 1883 to open a branch office for the Detroit-based Moreton Truck & Storage Co., but three years later bought the Toledo operation and rights to the name.

Its Detroit forebear failed, but the Toledo operation rolled through the decades, moving families across town, especially during the building booms of the early 20th century and after World War II, and across the country.

In the early 20th century, before gasoline-powered trucks were common, Moreton kept draft horses in a barn behind its North Huron Street facility — actually, three warehouse buildings, one of which had a water-driven elevator, his son said. Moreton offered heated storage for pianos and other objects sensitive to temperature changes. A 1922 ad touted “Private Rooms in Fireproof Warehouses.”

Mr. Witte went to work at Moreton after Navy service in World War II and studies at the Amos Tuck graduate school of business administration at Dartmouth College, from which he received a bachelor’s degree. By 1955, he was president and oversaw the firm’s affiliation with North American Van Lines after a quarter century with Allied Van Lines.

In the 1960s, Toledo corporations were “growing fantastically,” Mr. Witte told The Blade at Moreton’s centenary.

“Dana was really on the move. Libbey-Owens-Ford was growing. Owens-Illinois was growing. Owens-Corning was booming,” Mr. Witte said in 1983. “And we were part of that growth, moving people around.”

One secret to the firm’s longevity, Mr. Witte said in 1983: “You don’t get overextended in good times.”

He liked the challenge of running the business, said son Charles, who became a Moreton vice president.

Moreton coordinated transport in 1982 for the El Greco exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. Specially equipped trucks carrying armed guards con-veyed the artwork from Washington to Toledo and Toledo to Dallas, but the logistics and itinerary were kept under wraps at the time.

He was born April 1, 1924, to Helen and John G. Witte, and grew up on Birckhead Place, an early gated community off Cherry Street. He was a 1942 graduate of Scott High School, where he was class president and played football.

He left Dartmouth to enlist in naval officer training and became a lieutenant aboard a landing ship in the Pacific Theater. His father was a Seabee, also in the Pacific, and they had a chance to meet during the war. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and was stationed at Newport, R.I.

Mr. Witte was a member of the Toledo post of the American Legion and took part in several service clubs, including Rotary and Sertoma. He and his wife, Ann, contributed to the museum and Toledo Symphony.

He and his wife, the former Ann Crosman, married March 29, 1952. She was a staff lecturer at the Toledo Museum of Art, recruited by the late Otto Wittmann. She died July 21, 2010.

Surviving are his sons, Eric and Charles T. Witte; daughter, Jean Witte Bina, and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 4:30 p.m. March 29 in First Congregational Church on Collingwood Boulevard, where Mr. Witte was a longtime member. The family suggests tributes to Dartmouth College or the Toledo Museum of Art.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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